Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Ancient Iraq

Yesterday Saddam called on Arabs to come to the "Land of the two rivers" to throw out the invaders. He was pitching to Arab pride and their fond remembrance of Iraq of old.
Did some reading on Ancient Iraq and was fascinated!

Iraq earlier was known as Mesapotomia. Fed by Tigris and Euphrates ( Dijla and Furat in Arabic) Iraq was the cradle of civilization.

Just half into mankind's history, around 4000 BC, long before Egypt, Roman and Greek civilisations, the advanced Sumerian civilisation existed here. Sumerian civilisation is named after its birth place, Sumer, which was the area between the two rivers and is now the southern tip of modern Iraq.

The Sumerian civilisation started as a series of farming villages around 5000 BC. It revolved aorund the two rivers. The periodic flooding of the rivers were a boon and a curse. A boon because they brought fertile top soil and a curse because they were destructive. Sumerians were forced to learn agricultural and irrigational techniques to harness these rivers. The need for efficient agricultural techniques led to the invention of the wheel and the plow . As always, agriculture led to the invention of calender and soon after, writing. Sumerians developed the cueniform script, written with a wedge shaped reed onto wet clay. Earlier cueniform was pictographic, but pictures became more stylised and were replaced with lines.

WIth prosperity and writing in place, accounting was just a step away. The propserity brought by Agriculture led to the invention of book-keeping and Sumerians invented the double entry book keeping, followed to this day (though they followed a math system based on 60, like the way we keep time). Organised banking followed soon after with temples /palaces acting as storehouses of grain, cattle, agricultural implements and of course, precious metals.

Writing and prosperity led to refined Arts and literature. The epic of Gilgamesh has managed to survive to this date. Set in 2700 BC, Gilgamesh was the king of the Sumerian city-state Uruk. It records the King's sorrow at the death of his friend and his search for immortality. The epic talks about a great flood and about a wise man who survived it by building an ark ( A model on which the Noah tale is based?) . The epic records how easily humans can be pushed out of existence.

Like most civilisations Sumerians started with nature worship. They worshipped Anu ( God of heaven), Enil ( God of water) and Ea ( Creator of man). The priests represented the Gods and ruled from ziggurats. Superstitious rituals like reading goat entrails soon followed. Priests convinced people so much about their 'Godliness' that Sumerians had a succession of Priest-kings, earlier elected by the people, degenerating fast into the kingship becoming hereditary.

With rise of cities and prosperity ( and religion ) battles soon followed and the Sumerians were clashing with Akkadians( People who founded the city Akkad). Akkadians came in from the Arabian peninsula ( Saudi ) and were semetic ( Speaking semitic languages - Hebrew, Arabic, Assyrian, Babylonian. The modern term Semites is coined from the name of Noah's son Shem. His descendants are semites. Now the meaning has narrowed to mean the Jews.)

This blog traces roughly half the Sumerian civilisation, from 5000 Bc to around 2500 BC. More on it later.

Colorful personalities in the first half of the Sumerian Civilisation

Sargon, the bearded Akkadian king who conquered Sumer and established the Akkadian empire.

Hammurabi ( 1800 BC) Does not figure in the period above, but too colorful to let go !

The king who reunited Sumerians and founded Babylon. Introduced the Rule of the Law, the Hammurabi code. This was carved onto a stone slab 8 feet high and on top Hammurabi is shown receiving he laws from the Sun God. (Earliest form of the Ten Commandments ?)The stone slab can be still seen at the Louvre, Paris.

The law was different for the rich and the poor. The weak received some protection from the strong.

Snippets from the code

"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

"If any one steals cattle/sheep/ass/pig/goat belonging to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirty times the price. If they belonged to a citizen, he shall pay ten times the price. If the thief has no money to pay the fine, he shall be put to death "

If any one brings a complaint against a man, the accused can leap into the river. If he sinks he is guilty.If he escapes unhurt,the accuser will be killed and his property goes to the accused. ( Swimming unknown ?)

The judge who blunders in a lawsuit loses his judgeship forever, and is heavily fined. The witness who testifies falsely is to be slain. All heavier crimes are made punishable with death.

If a man builds a house badly, and it falls and kills the owner, the builder is to be slain. If the owner's son was killed, then the builder's son is slain.

Anyone stealing or receiving stolen property belonging to the court is to be killed.

If conspirators meet in a bar, and if these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the barkeeper shall be put to death.

Even if you do not take a receipt for the money which you give someone , the other guy cannot claim it as his own.

If a thief breaks a hole into a house to get in, he shall be put to death before that hole.

If any one buys from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death.

If fire breaks out in a house,and a thief grabs the owners property, he shall be thrown into that same fire.

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